Ravel and Tchaikovsky both expressed dissatisfaction at the mixing of piano with strings in a chamber format. Considering that both composers' piano trios are exemplary accomplishments among their slender chamber music outputs, one might question the wherefores for these beefs. Especially when a group like the Trio Dell'Arte, which performed the Ravel and Tchaikovsky Trios in A Minor yesterday afternoon at the Lyceum in Alexandria, are the executants.
The Trio Dell'Arte, now residing in Northern Virginia, has been together for five years, and claim pianist Menahem Pressler of the Beaux Arts Trio as spiritual advisor. Exuberance is perhaps the best single word to describe the playing of pianist Grace McFarlane, violinist Donna Tecco and cellist David Szepessy. They weren't the least bit bashful in energizing the opening Haydn Trio in A Major, by using excessive dynamics in the first movement before settling on a more sober approach.
In similar fashion, the trio leaped into the Ravel and Tchaikovsky pieces. They ran a bit roughshod over the early measures of the Ravel, temporarily robbing the movement of its carefully designed rhythmic elasticity. Once under control, however, they acquitted themselves admirably. McFarlane lent a forceful presence in the third and fourth movements, while the colorful, robust contributions of Tecco and Szepessy made for a Ravel more sanguine than bittersweet.
After rushing the melancholy A-minor theme of the Tchaikovsky, the trio adopted a more elegiacal mood, in turn demonstrating their most sympathetic ensemble playing. The Theme and Variations' fugue section was a marvel of instrumental balance. McFarlane duplicated to near perfection the composer's piano mimicry of a music box and a Chopin-inspired mazurka.